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MMA signed into law, and then Kanye West waffled

By | Published on Friday 12 October 2018

The White House

After years of planning and months of careful negotiations in Congress, America’s Music Modernization Act yesterday landed on the desk of President Donald Trump to be signed into law. With his ink now very much on the page, this major round of copyright reform Stateside can actually begin.

As the final stage of making the MMA law took place, several of the people who played a key role in campaigning for the legislation, and in bringing all the different stakeholders on board, weren’t in attendance, seemingly because they weren’t invited or – in some cases – had had their invites withdrawn at the last minute. But two of the key players, David Israelite from the National Music Publishers Association and Chris Harrison from the Digital Media Association, were there to see the act over its final hurdle.

A bunch of artists were also invited for the big MMA signing, some friends of the Trump, others long-time advocates of copyright reform. Having reps from the artist community present seemed important, given that artists and songwriters should be key beneficiaries of the MMA if it is implemented correctly, it seeking to ensure that they get paid more (or at all) by various regular users of their music. The fact that the artists present yesterday were mainly old white men was disappointing but unsurprising given the current administration in Washington.

It had been thought that your old mate Kanye West would also be in attendance, him also being scheduled in for a more general chinwag with the Trump yesterday. In the end West didn’t make the MMA moment, but arrived a little later and proceeded to waffle on inanely about all sorts of rubbish for ten very long minutes in front of a bemused President and a confused press pack who had all gathered in the Oval Office. As the waffling went on, you started to wonder whether something shouldn’t have been inserted into the MMA that ensures certain artists actually get paid less.

Either way, the MMA is now law and that is a good thing. The copyright reforming act will set up a mechanical rights collecting society in the US for the first time. It’s hoped that that new society will mean all music publishers and songwriters get all the royalties they are due from the streaming services. It should also bring to an end the string of multi-million dollar lawsuits against digital music firms which didn’t know who to pay for the songs they had streamed.

The MMA will also end the stupid pre-1972 quirk in the way royalties are paid to artists and labels by online and satellite radio set-ups. And it will alter – to the music industry’s advantage – the way the Copyright Royalty Board and the US rate courts work out what are fair royalties to be paid in both compulsory and BMI/ASCAP negotiated licences.

As the MMA finally became law yesterday an assortment of music industry organisations issued their customary statements welcoming the move. The statements were, in the main boring and predictable, though after listening to West waffle on about all sorts of nonsense for ten minutes, boring and predictable has a new appeal. Here are some of them…

National Music Publishers Association CEO David Israelite: “The Music Modernization Act is finally the law of the land. We are incredibly grateful for the members of Congress who passed the MMA and the President for signing it. Songwriters have for too long laboured without seeing fair rates and receiving all that they deserve, and for the first time in history, the music industry has partnered with the tech industry to fix these systemic problems. As we embark on supporting and helping build the critical structures within the MMA, we are humbled by the extraordinary progress propelled by compromise and the unprecedented political involvement of music creators. Today is about their future and this bill stands as a great statement on what can be done when we work together”.

Digital Media Association CEO Chris Harrison: “The MMA finally brings our music licensing laws into the 21st century and ensures greater transparency and efficiency across the entire music ecosystem. This historic legislation has been a decade in the making. DiMA, and its streaming member companies, are proud to have spearheaded this process from start to finish. Working together with our industry partners and lawmakers, we believe the creation of a new, modern system will provide better clarity and benefit publishers, songwriters, artists, record labels, and digital services “.

Bosses of the Association Of Independent Music Publishers: “[The MMA] marks the first significant federal [copyright] legislation since 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act to address the needs of rights-holders in today’s online age. We can look forward to a variety of long-overdue reforms that will make it easier to negotiate for and collect fair royalty rates while also establishing once and for all that digital services must pay for the use of pre-1972 recordings. In addition, it ensures independent publishers and songwriters a seat at the table for the new mechanical licensing collective “.

Michael Huppe, CEO of US recording industry collecting society SoundExchange: “With today’s signing of the Music Modernization Act, we mark a historic accomplishment. But more importantly, we mark what it means. For creators, it means getting paid more fairly. For those who recorded music before 1972, it means assurance you’ll get paid for your work. For songwriters, publishers and producers it means making the digital economy work for you. SoundExchange’s 170,000-member community was a driving force in getting the bill from the halls of Congress to the White House. When the music industry speaks with one voice, Congress listens. I urge you to stay active because there is much more work to be done before we can truly say all music creators are treated fairly”.

Elizabeth Matthews, CEO of one of America’s song right collecting societies ASCAP: “Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of our ASCAP music creator and publisher members, industry partners and champions in Congress, a more sustainable future for songwriters is finally within reach. The MMA’s unanimous passage in the House and Senate proves that the power of music is a great unifier. ASCAP is gratified to have stood alongside creators, music publishers, and many more to make this dream a reality”.

And here, if you like, is Kanye’s contribution: